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Student rally calls for UC to hire students without legal status, fair union wages

Opportunity for All protestors holding signs and chanting outside the University of California Board of Regents meeting are pictured. Groups were calling for the hiring of students without legal status and fair compensation for union workers. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

By Christopher Buchanan and Dylan Winward

May 17, 2023 7:26 p.m.

This post was updated May 18 at 10:23 p.m.

Advocacy groups calling for the UC to hire students without legal status and fairly compensate union-affiliated workers held protests outside the University of California Board of Regents meeting Wednesday at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. 

Opportunity for All, a UC-wide student organization campaigning for equal access to employment and resources for students without legal status, held a rally that featured faculty and student speeches and a march to the Luskin Conference Center to form a picket line.

Hundreds of students gathered in front of Kerckhoff Hall to hear student leaders speak about their experiences with employment opportunities at UCs. Following this, the organizers, dressed in blue Opportunity for All shirts, began to march toward the conference center and repeatedly chanted, “Up and down the state, listen to your students, President Drake.”

Opportunity for All held the UCLA rally during the regents meeting to demand that the UC allow employment of students without legal status in university positions, said Carlos Alarcón, a second-year public policy graduate student and rally leader. Students without legal status can face more difficulties qualifying for necessary resources, hurting their chances of employment, Alarcón added. 

“Those who don’t qualify for DACA, they don’t have federal work authorization, they don’t have the social security number,” Alarcón said. “That’s the excuse that many state entities and the University of California give as to why they can’t employ these students.” 

The UC has been in the process of considering a new proposal that would allow the hiring of students without legal status, challenging the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a federal law that prohibits the hiring of immigrants without legal status. Additionally, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that had previously provided some immigrants without legal status with temporary work authorization, may only renew existing applicants’ protections and not approve new applications following a U.S. District Court ruling in October. 

The UC Regents are set to vote Thursday regarding whether students without legal status will be hired by the UC.

Members of the labor studies department, including Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, and lecturer Rev. James Lawson, addressed the Opportunity for All crowd to give speeches in support of workers without legal status.

Wong said at the rally that DACA and other supportive programs are often temporary, which could make students and staff without legal status subject to deportation. Wong encouraged protesters to confront the board about their demands for employment rights through protests. 

Alarcón said he believes the UCs are within their legal rights to extend their employment opportunities to students without legal status because of their status as a state entity, adding that legal theory posits that restrictions from the 1986 law only apply to federal positions.

Alarcón added he felt the UC may be hesitant to address these issues for fear of legal repercussions. 

“They don’t really have the interests of the students in mind,” Alarcón said. “They’re just scared of losing their federal grants. They’re just scared of getting sued.” 

Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, the lead organizer for the Undocumented Student-Led Network at UCLA, said even students or individuals eligible for DACA are not guaranteed to retain employment by the policy. He added that it is important for the UCs to find alternative solutions to support students without legal status and those at risk of losing documentation. 

“Not having DACA has completely affected my ability to retain myself at this university to support my parents and my family and my financial endeavors, but also to access the full breadth of opportunities that the UC offers its students,” Muñoz said. 

Muñoz added that despite raising this issue on multiple occasions with the UC, he has not seen any progress concerning protections for students without legal status.

A UC Office of the President spokesperson said the board takes significant consideration of the issues students without legal documentation encounter and will be discussing the prospects set out by Opportunity for All on Thursday. 

Union representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents more than 30,000 UC employees, including service workers, primary care workers and skilled care workers, also held a separate protest outside the regents meeting, hoping to secure a new minimum wage of $25 for UC workers. 

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 union workers walking toward the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center to join picket lines. Union workers were advocating for wage raises and fair compensation from the UC. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

Chancellor Gene Block proposed a 4.6% systemwide salary increase for certain UC employees who are paid biweekly to be considered by the UC Regents.

Sam Rusk, a second-year English student and an AFSCME 3299 union member, said the AFSCME union protesters gathered to express disappointment with the pay raise President Drake and UC chancellors were voting on during the meeting, while student workers continue experiencing financial hardship. 

Rusk, who works at Cafe Synapse on campus, added that a pay raise could prevent students from having to worry about rent burdens or food insecurity, allowing them to focus instead on their academic work. 

John Tomkies, a UCLA parking enforcement specialist, said he feels the regents should also address the impact of inflation by raising employees’ wages. 

“To counteract the rising inflation, we’re trying to get $25 an hour just to sustain our cost of living,” he said. “Most of our workers do not make $25 an hour, and with the increase in inflation over the last few years, wages that we’re currently making isn’t enough to be able to have any kind of a lifestyle.”

In an emailed response, a UCOP spokesperson said the University offered a 5% pay raise to AFSCME-covered employees at the beginning of 2020. The statement added that the University has always paid workers at a rate exceeding local minimum wages and that the UC will be entering negotiations with the union to try to reach a fair deal.

Muñoz added that mobilization across the UC’s nine campuses was important to ensure student voices were heard.

“That’s why we chant, ‘Up and down the state, listen to your students, President Drake,’” he said.

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Christopher Buchanan
Dylan Winward | Features and student life editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
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